Tag Archives: the sacramental

Two Modern Mistakes About the Material World – and the Medieval Truth that can Save us from Them


I still think this is true.

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The material world: good, bad, or . . . ?


How do many modern Christians see the material world? Often in one of two apparently opposite, but equally problematic ways. Here’s the third way that medieval Christians can teach us.

Behold: an evangelical theologian who wishes to medievalize evangelicalism–as I do!


A fascinating evangelical proposal to return to a medieval "sacramental ontology"

A week or so ago, I stumbled fortuitously on a book review in the pages of Books and Culture. Or to be more precise, on the glowing screen of B&C‘s website. This was a review by a Wheaton art historian of a book by the J. I. Packer Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, BC. This is an exciting book for me, as it handles with great historical and theological sophistication the themes of earthiness and embodiment, Creation and Incarnation, that have floated to the surface of my own attempt to write about a “usable medieval past.”

The book is Hans Boersma’s Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (2011). I find it rich enough that I would like to blog on it here in the coming weeks. What did Wheaton art prof Matthew Milliner say about it? Here’s a sample: Continue reading

Sacramentality: You can’t “get” the Middle Ages if you don’t get this


Rogier van der Weyden. Seven Sacraments Altarpiece. Baptism, Confirmation, and Penance. Detail of the left wing. c.1445-1450. Oil on panel. Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, Belgium

In a lecture I’m giving today in the humanities program of Bethel University, I’ll be talking about the ideas of “sacramentality” and “sacraments” in the medieval period. Here’s what I’ll be saying:

Some definitions and facets of “sacrament”

Now we turn the page to a key preoccupation of “those who prayed”—one of the most central theological ideas of the medieval period—the idea of sacramentality.

Sacramentality is the concept that the outward and visible can convey the inward and spiritual. Physical matters and actions can become transparent vehicles of divine activity and presence. In short, sacraments can be God’s love made visible. Continue reading

Story, the imagination, the sacramental: J R R Tolkien, C S Lewis, and Charles Williams


A fine essay in Colin Duriez‘s J. R. R. Tolkien Handbook (Baker, 1992) opens up the topic of the theology of story. Though the handbook focuses on Tolkien, this particular essay ranges richly between Tolkien, Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and even a bit of G K Chesterton. (Again, the following uses my typical abbreviations; “xn” is Christian, “xnty” Christianity, “T” is Tolkien.)

I appreciate in this essay especially Duriez’s keen grasp of the romantic underpinnings of the theological meaning of story and imagination for the Inklings, as well as the sacramental element in Williams’s and Tolkien’s thought (what Williams identifies as “the Affirmative Way”). My overall comment on the usefulness of this essay to my “Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants” project follows, and then the essay itself sprinkled with a few of my notes

[Duriez’s essay on Tolkien and Christianity, from the same book, is here.]

Continue reading

Dorothy L. Sayers: Reclaiming the “integrated medieval worldview” for today


I’ve been at the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton College, IL for a couple of days now, looking through a slew of sources on C S Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, and G. K. Chesterton, who will be the key modern “guides” in my forthcoming book Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants. Below are notes from one fruitful source I ran into today, on Sayers.

The words in block capitals at the beginnings of some paragraphs relate to my chapter topics (search on the book’s title on this blog, or look back to early posts via the calendar, and you’ll find summary descriptions of each chapter). I’ve short-handed the thematic chapters Creation, Tradition, Theology, Ethics, Monks, Emotions, Incarnation, and Death. Here are the notes from my new-found source:

Lee W. Gibbs, The Middle Way: Voices of Anglicanism
(Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1991)

[The “voices” are Richard Hooker, John Donne, Jeremy Taylor, Joseph Butler, F. D. Maurice, C. S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, and William Temple]

From the Sayers chapter:

THEOLOGY          “Dorothy learned to play the piano and the violin, and even as a child she liked to sing hymns—especially those that were about ‘Prowl and prowl around, good swinging thick stuff, with a grand line or two about heresies and schisms, with all the sinners deeply wailing, the Father on His sapphire throne and the lowly pomp, and all the Good Friday hymns, wallowing in a voluptuous gloom.’” (95)

THEOLOGY          “It was also very early on that she was exposed to modest catechetical training. She found the doctrine of the Trinity intriguing and the language of the creeds overwhelming: ‘I know I should never have dared to confess to any of my grown-ups the over-mastering fascination exercised on me by the Athanasian Creed . . . So I hugged it as a secret delight.’” (95) Continue reading

J. R. R. Tolkien: the faith behind his writings


One of the first challenges I encountered in putting together an issue of Christian History & Biography on J R R Tolkien was justifying the topic. Tolkien? Wasn’t he a writer of secular fantasy stories? What did he have to do with Christian history? At the time the issue was being crafted, I reflected on this question in an online article:

Saint J. R. R. the Evangelist
Tolkien wanted his Lord of the Rings to echo the “Lord of Lords”—but do we have ears to hear?
Chris Armstrong

His family and friends called him by his second given name, Ronald, but his first name was John, in honor of his patron saint, John the Evangelist. And when J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Books that have now spawned The Movies, his work was deeply colored by the convictions of his Roman Catholic faith. Continue reading